Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fedora rescuecd vs. Debian netinst ... with Screenshots

Other than a few obtuse references to some of the features of the Fedora 8 rescuecd, I could not easily figure out how to install Fedora 8 (fc8) in a similar fashion to Debian's netinst installer.

By the way, the word "netinst" is difficult for some people because it could be confused with a network boot using a protocol like PXE or bootp. So let's mention here that a "netinst" refers a local boot (from cd, usb, or some such device) followed by a network installation.

So, can you do a netinst of Fedora? Yes, but looking at their download page it's not obvious how to do a netinst type of install with the media files provided by Fedora. Looking at the Fedora wiki, it somhow becomes even less obvious. And after googling permutations of "fedora", "netinst", "rescuecd" ... well it's even more frustrating.

So, here are the step by step screenshots of a fc8 rescuecd install which does allow you to do a local boot from a cd (no DVD necessary) followed by a network installation from a fedora mirror of your choice.

Fedora core 8 rescuecd initial boot screen

Choose your Language

Choose your keyboard

Ok ... here is where it starts getting interesting ... none of the community sites I found showed this. These are your options. Either FTP or HTTP would be similar to your debian netinst options

Choose IPv4 and/or 6 for your network installation

This is also something that needs clarification ... I could not find this clearly explained anywhere ... you need to have your favorite Fedora mirror URLs memorized for this step. And you'll need to know how to break it up into the pieces they request here.

Oh yes, and you'll want to end the URL with the directory that contains the "Packages" directory, so in this case it ends with the "os" directory. If you end your URL too high up in the directory tree or too far down in the directory tree, you may get a chance to correct this mistake after the next screen when the installer figures out that your URL is not what it wants. No clear error message is given in those cases ... you are simply prompted for the URL again.

Just choose skip here, and it's at this point that if your URL was not correct you'll be taken back to the previous screen to re-enter the URL.

This screen begins what is called "stage 2 anaconda", which should be familiar to anyone who has done a graphical install of Fedora before.

There are many advantages to doing a local boot and installation over the network such as:

1) a DVD burner is not required to produce your installation media.
2) a DVD player is not required to perform the install.
3) you can be sure that you will only need one small cd image to do the install.

I suggest you install as little as possible before your first update of all your packages. It will just make the update go faster.

It looks like the main advantage of a Debian netinst over a Fedora rescuecd is that with Debian's netinst you are given at least one mirror by default. A big problem with both of these distros is that it's difficult to know from their web pages what link to click on to get the netinst (iso) image you need in order to burn a CD.

For fedora, look for the "rescuecd.iso" on one of their mirrors. Here's a fast one I used (out of date now).
For Debian, try here.

Hopefully now it's more clear.

NOTE: Screenshots taken with Sun's VirtualBox and imlib2

UPDATE: It looks like the fedora community is trying to improve on their current netinst capabilities with Fedora 9. And here is a recent interview where Jeremy Katz and Chris Lumens give their reasons for improving the netinst process.


Steve Wright said...

Hi Vernon,
I'm not sure if you remember me or not but I was the pastor of the hotdogchurch in San Francisco when you came and played for us one time. I now have moved back to Charlotte to plant a new church. My blog is and the church site is

The ministry I'm working with is

When you have time check it all out.

Also, I hope to bring the kids to Disney World. They have never been.

Mika said...

There is no need to make things more difficult than they are. You can find Debian netinst images from here:

Anonymous said...

you can install Arch Linux using any livecd or distro...

Anonymous said...

mika ... how does that fedora8 installed.

James Z said...

Yah, I echo Mika's comment.

go to

Click on the "obtain a copy" link

And the very first option is getting a netinst CD!

Anonymous said...

It's still *incredibly hard* to find the new netinst.iso -- it's not mentioned at all on the get-fedora page. And the F9 release notes that have propagated to other sites always refer to a "netboot.iso," which doesn't really exist outside of those notes as far as I can tell. Your link to the beta release notes really helped me. netinst.iso is what I needed to search for.

Just because this blog post showed up high on my search results, I'll mention the other stuff I found:
the final-release release-notes mention of netinst.iso:

And the download link for netinst.iso apparently *was* in the official release notes, though I completely missed it:

mithrilite said...

Well hmph! I have tried both the Debian netinst (4.0_r4a) and the Fedora 9 netinst. Both have provided hours and hours of grief and frustration. One wonders how reliable an OS can be when the installation instructions, and procedure is as flawed as these are.

After no less than a dozen attempts with each, trying all the variations, hacks, fixes and brute-force repetition "just to see if it might work this time" - both installers fail somewhere during the package download. On Debian you need to download about 650 - 700 files, and it hung sometimes as early as file number 28, and sometimes as late as file number 630 (yep, almost 99% done, then nothing!).

On Fedora, repeated complaints that it couldn't find a package kept occurring, with only an option to Retry or Reboot. Retry just produces the same complaint (I guess the file's not on the server? It seemed to find several others judging by the compaint occurring for a different file with each attempt), over and over and over again. Reboot sends you back to Square One, do not pass Go, do not collect anything other than frustration.

The main source of frustration is that in the process itself, there has been no consideration to the potential for problems. Why wouldn't Fedora provide some option to locate the file explicitly? Or reset/change the url for the mirror? (maybe another mirror will respond). Why take use 15-20 minutes or more through the install, only to say "Oh well, you'll just need to reboot, can't find the file". It's more than just silly. I'll leave the adjectives up to the reader.

Don't bother with netinst unless you harbour masochistic tendencies for psychological mind games where you're told one thing, but have to live with a completely different thing. "Oh, do try the filet mignon sir, it is quite exquisite" - only to be served mashed canned SPAM (mixed with dog food).

The full CD download (cd #1 only), with minimal installation of OS finally was the solution. Used apt later to get all the rest of the stuff I needed.

Wow. Talk about an exercise in frustration. For Linux "elites", no need to worry about Sally at the office boasting about her KDE desktop, Linux just ain't gonna make it to mainstream adoption when this is the best it can do. This was acceptable when I first installed Slackware in 1998 over 33.6 modem. I don't think it quite cuts it now.

exit 1;

Kenny said...

It's a little better with FC9. You can get the netinst ISO right from and clicking the i386 link next to Get CDs.

But netinst still asks for the URL when you boot it up and configure your networking. This is going to alienate new users who might not have the bandwidth for downloading an entire CD set.

OpenBSD makes this easier as it automatically finds online sources for you when doing a net install. Wish Fedora did that too :)

Vernon Singleton said...

Closing comments on this post for now. If you would like it opened back up for comments, email me. My email is up by my picture at the top of this blog under the heading "contact me here".